Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Republicans push for party spending limits

By Rachel Wells

House Republicans are pushing for continued campaign finance reform with new legislation that would limit the power of political parties and all four legislative leaders in general elections.

As proposed by House Minority Leader Tom Cross, HB 5008 would expand on campaign contribution limits that were passed along party lines during last fall's veto session. The campaign finance reform bill -- signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn exactly one year after then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on corruption charges -- placed contribution limits on individuals, businesses, unions and political committees during both the general and primary election cycles but only limited legislative leaders and political parties during primary races.

Under the new bill, legislative leaders and political parties would be limited to giving $200,000 to statewide candidates, $125,000 to Senate candidates and $75,000 to House candidates during general elections, as they are now limited in the primaries.

Cross called the proposed legislation a solution to Illinois' "image issue" created in part by the consolidation of power in the hands of a few, the very same situation that could keep the bill from being heard at all.

"I think almost every member would tell you they're for this. The reform groups are for it, the public is for it, and it would be a shame to let two people (House Speaker Micheal Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton), in kind of evidence of the problem we're talking about, stop a piece of legislation like this. I would hope that it would get a vote and it would get a vote where people could actually vote their true feelings," Cross said.

Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat involved in last year's negotiations, said near unanimous approval of Cross' proposal is highly unlikely. "I can say with certainty that not all members would support that," Harmon said. "They believe the political parties exist for the purpose of electing members of their political party. That's their role, to elect Democrats or elect Republicans."

Madigan cited the same argument last fall in testimony against extending limits on parties to general elections.

Reform coalition Change Illinois supported the signing of last year's bill but says its members will continue to advocate for further contribution limits, like those proposed in HB 5008. "The contribution limits bill passed and signed last year was an historic step forward, and the next step should be enactment of limits on contributions from political parties and legislative caucus committees controlled by the four legislative leaders," the organization stated in a news release.

During the announcement, Cross was pressed concerning his endorsement of Republican gubernatorial candidate Andy McKenna, who was reprimanded by the Illinois Republican State Central Committee. As reported this morning by the State Journal-Register and described in the committee's ethics inquiry, then-chairman McKenna used party funds to commission a statewide poll measuring voter attitudes toward potential candidates. Although the poll included McKenna's name, he failed to disclose that fact at any point to the State Central Committee and failed to alert members of his potential for personal benefit in commissioning the poll.

Cross dismissed any connection between his endorsement of a candidate who violated party ethics codes and his call to weaken party power as a step toward reform. He said that critics of McKenna are using the controversy to score political points during an election year.

"People that are talking about this that don't want to talk about the fact that they're for tax increases and not talking about restraining spending and creating jobs. It's kind of a political 101 -- 'let's throw some dirt on an issue and not talk about the real issue,'" Cross said.

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